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Nonfiction Review: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
Genre: Nonfiction
Age category: Teen/Adult
Release Date: 2018

Review

While I generally only review novels, I’m still a writer at heart, and books about the craft of creating stories will generally pique my interest. This latest one came on a recommendation, and after reading it, my feeling is that it could be genuinely helpful, especially for newer writers. With two caveats.

First, be prepared a lot of pages dedicated to hyping the method itself (and the author’s successful execution of it–because as we all know, the world of fiction publishing is a pure meritocracy.) Explaining the method itself doesn’t generate enough material for a full-length book, so I’m guessing this was largely to pad the word count. But it came off as a preview for a film I was already sitting down with my tub of popcorn to watch.

Second, be prepared to be spoken to like you are, at best, an eighth grader. Not the kind who’s been spinning stories since you were four but the kind who’s just found your passion. You’re hyped, you’re excited, and you have no clue what you are doing. The author might use big, scary phrases like “character arc,” but don’t be scared, because she’s here to help you land on your feet! (See what she did there?)

Yes, the phrase “See what I did there?” occurs frequently in these pages.

So why would I still recommend reading this? Well, because dismissing it completely would be coming a bit too close to the fallacy fallacy for me. The argument that there are recognizable beats and archetypes throughout popular fiction is valid, despite the patronizing delivery. It’s not a new argument, as evidenced by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and the original Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. But I did find the beats and archetypes genuinely helpful in mapping out the random snippets of stories floating around in my head. I also pinpointed a couple points where my drafts are slowing down, and on reflection, I see why they’re doing that. (Note: I was able to do these things on my own without any of the written exercises the author “makes” you complete during the book. If you’re willing to be honest and reflective about your own work, there’s a lot you can accomplish without the exercises themselves.)

On a more minor note, some of the book’s language reads as dated, despite only being four years old. Romance is spoken about as if it’s a universal experience in the “Love/Buddy” chapter. In the “Dude With a Problem” chapter, the author points out that a “dude” could be any gender…then peppers the chapter with the phrase “dude or dudette” anyway.

If you are a starting writer/occasional reader who’s intimated by writing a full novel, this book could work well for you. If you’re a more experienced author, you can still benefit from reading it, although you might find yourself looking to pick up the original Save the Cat! instead. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel translates the beats from film to fiction in terms of how they might be executed, but the beats themselves are identical. (Even the names are unchanged.) But however you read about it, I strongly recommend giving the method itself a try. I’m already using the Save the Cat! beat sheets as a brainstorming method for my next two manuscripts, and I’m genuinely excited about working on them, even though I’ve been feeling rather sluggish in my writing lately. I can be annoyed by the delivery, but I can’t argue when something works for me. I just wish this book would have spent less pages telling me how helpful it’s going to be and brought more genuinely new material and advice to the table.

Rating: 2 out of 5

You can find the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel on Goodreads

You can also buy the original Save the Cat! on Amazon. (Affiliate link)

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